Saturday, 29 December 2012

Mastering the art of camping...

Comfortable camping HOW TO... video clip... 

So it is true what they say, practice makes prefect, and because I don't want to look the fool in the beginning stages of  the Tour da Afrique 2013, by being the girl who cannot pitch a tent... I thought it's a good idea to master the art of setting up camp and to ensure that everything is in good working condition... During this tent pitching exercise I realized I haven't actually got a camping pillow yet... Ooops!!! Might seem like an difficult item to forget, but with so many things to organize (Cycling clothing, casual clothing, bicycle, medication, nutrition, bicycle spares, etc) in a short space of time, it's very easy to let something vital slip ones mind... So my advise is testing testing testing...

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Boxing day... Day to play with presents...

The day after Christmas, is not only a time to eat and drink more, but also the best time to test out new toys, assuming you still receive gifts, but if like me your too "old" to get presents at Christmas I have started buying gifts for myself... Well, not quite presents for myself, but lately I'v been collecting all that I need and receiving heaps of cool equipment from sponsors for my up-and-coming trip, so I must admin I feel like a kid again, surrounded by new shiny toys. While my younger cousins all played with their new make-up bags, jewelry and toys, I got out my new tent and practiced setting it up, cause for the next 4 months this will be my shelter while I make my way across the African continent...

My new TOY!!! 

Christmas time...

Christmas time on the farm is the best time, hot summers day, filled with good food, drink and family fun. Unfortunately this year, I'm the one who's home in South Africa, while the rest of my immediate family are overseas. My parents are in London spending the first Christmas with my brother first born, Oliva. While my sister and her husband are near the Caribbean Island, St Maarten preparing the yacht for charter. But that's no problem, because the Melck's always have big families and so the farm house was still filled with laughter, food smells and warmth. As usual Grandad puts on his Father Christmas hat and hands out the gifts, while the table is set for the massive family lunch...
Time for presents
Time for food
After indulging into the rich Christmas feast I fell into, what can only be described as a Food Comma. I decided to lie outside and enjoy the view of the farm, a view I miss most when away from home...
Well, I relaxed and enjoyed this view until my brother, Justin and wife wife Georgina's, energetic dog, Olla, comes to play.

Merry Christmas to ALL!!!

Friday, 14 December 2012


MAD charity (Make A Difference)

My dear sister, Nina, as events unfolded with regards to my cross-continental cycle challenge, she couldn't help but call me absolutely MAD. Then with a bit of brainstorming, the incredibly creative Nina came up with the idea that I should try start a MAD brand or foundation if the path I'm on leads me into a career involving a life of adventure and activism, because she thinks I'm just plain MAD!!! The idea was good, but I'm a newcomer on the scene and one needs to be established before jumping into creating brands and charitable foundation.

However, this MAD idea stayed with me and since I didn't have a "Cause" to benefite, I started my google research... I studied every NGO established in Africa, contacted the Laureus Sports for Good Foundation and numerous charities to help represent. Unfortunately none stuck... I wanted to find something that would tick all my boxes, first and foremost, proundly South African. I am determined to make a difference in my country, because I truly believe in the future of our beautiful South Africa and the endless potentail it has. Then my charity of choice also had to be trustworthy in their goodwill projects and have legitemate proof of achieving their goals targeted at a serious social issue. Eventaully stressed and pressed for time I considered starting my own small project as Nina suggested called MAD, but before I focused my attention onto an individual project, I thought why not just google MAD and see whats out there... And I'm not sure how the universe works, but the PERFECT charity of choice found me. There it was MAD charity (Make A Difference) established and proudly South African... I studied their website and knew this was the foundation I wanted to represent as my beneficiary, everything about MAD was appropriate, not only because people many think I'm MAD for cycling through Africa, but the foundation strives to give academically talented but economically disadvantaged youth in South Africa an opportunity to reach their full potential as leaders and role models by providing exceptional educational and related opportunities. I immeaditely clicked on the Contact Us link and started my detailed e-mail to CEO Karien Winter at the MAD offices in Cape Town. Half-way through my e-mail I decided that e-mail isn't going to work, I leave for Cairo in 3 weeks and everything closes down for christmas holidays, I need to act fast... So I picked up the phone a called Karien directly, I ratteled off my story and I think I might have spoken non-stop for about 10min, and when I finally kept my mouth shut, the CEO of MAD in Cape Town said "That was one of the most inspiration phone calls I'v had in a long time, when can we meet???" And two days later I was in the MAD officers and all was organized. Hopefully I'll be the first of many MAD activist that are determined to Make A Difference in South Africa.

I strongly support the principles of MAD, because Nelson Mandela says it best "Education is the most powerful weapon, which can be used to change the world." And I fully agree with the peace-keeping legend. The lack of a proper eductaion is the root of most social issues such as poverty, unemployment and health problems, which are widely spread across South Africa.

Make A Difference (MAD) foundation was founded by Francios Pienaar and a group of friends in 2003. To date, MAD has supported in excess of 2 000 youngsters on the MAD Education Programmes and their eventual aim is to create alumni of MAD beneficiaries who will create positive change in an emerging democracy.

My contribution will be from people that support my Tour d' Afrique make a donation of a R10 minimum for each km I cycle from Cairo to Cape Town, thus raising a minimum of R120 000 for MAD in 4 months. The donation link will soon be available on my blog, but visit MAD's website to find out more and make a donation towards the future of South Africa, because the leaders of tomorrow need our leadership today.

Please Visit:
MAD charity

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Training and Preparations...

Feeling pretty confident
So here I am, no experience on a bicycle whatsoever and I have decided to take part in the longest cycle challenge in the world, namely the Tour da' Afrique.

Well, go big or go home, I always say... Once I set my mind on cycling though Africa the fun part started... 

Training and Preparations!!!!

Waiting at the start...
Firstly, I arrived home after being overseas for almost 3 years and I was ready to start my training, but my biggest problem was that I actually don't own a bicycle. The only "interaction", one could say, that I have had with a bicycle was when I won a blue BMX bike from a lucky packet competition when I was 11 years old. My auntie, took my cousins and I to the movies in Vredenberg and as a treat we each got a Lucky Packet. In this packet you find the usual cheap toys, sugary sweets and a leaflet adverting silly things for kids. I for some reason studied these leaflets and found a competition one could enter. At the time I don't even think I knew what the potential prize was, but I entered it anyway for the hell of it. And then a few weeks later a blue bicycle was delivered to our farm as a prize.... I must have been the only kid that entered, cause I'm usually not the lucky one in the family. I rode this bike until it got it's first puncher, and then it sadly sat in the shed to rust. We live on a farm called Doornfontein - direct translation Thorn Fountain - so not the most bicycle friendly environment.

However, the problem of no bicycle was quickly solved when cycling enthusiast and family friend, Rudolf Gruber, offered to lend me his old mountain bike and so I had wheels to begin training. My dad took off the front wheel and placed it in the back of the car to take back to the farm from Cape Town. The next morning early I am awake and excited to begin my training, but the wheel was still off the bike... Too embarrassed to wake someone and ask for help, I attempted to put the wheel back myself. I was quite pleased when I seems to be successful, and thought to myself "well this isn't too difficult, I don't know what all the fuss is about". Little did I know... My brother in-law, Micheal, stepped outside and saw me playing around my new toy and upon inspection, he burst out laughing and pointed out that I had successfully put the front wheel on backwards and failed to connect the breaks... Well "A" for afford!! And so from then on I got idiot proof lesson on everything Bicycle and Cycling. One must understand, I truly had no clue about anything bicycle related and now a few weeks ago I made the decision to cycle through the African Continent from Cairo to Cape Town... I can see why some might think I'm a little crazy, but these nothing like a good challenge to keep me focused and get me motivate.

The Langebaan Lagoon Cycle Challenge
Our farm is absolutely perfect for training proposes, it's got plenty sandy dirt roads that go on for miles and miles with little traffic, but lots of snakes. On a daily bases when I get up for my morning rides I see at least three snakes en route on hot day, mostly the black mole snake and other times I get the surprise of coming across Cape Cobra or Puff adders, which get the heart racing. I have scouted out a good 55 km cycle which provides a long stretch of difficult off road conditions, few climbs, sandy patches as well as the baking heat from the South African sun. I like to think I got most of the African terrain and weather conditions covered in my training, but nothing can truly prepare you for Africa, and that excites me. I cannot wait to be challenged physically, mentally and emotionally and I believe the African continent will put my character to its biggest test yet.

I participated in my first ever bicycle race, namely the Langebaan Lagoon Cycle Challenge. At the time of this race I had only been riding my newly borrowed bike for about a week. I entered the 80 km challenge and to my surprise and everyone else's too, finished in 3 hours and 30 min. After the race when I chatted to fellow riders and told them I only started cycling a week ago and the next cycle challenge I'm planning to do will be the longest in the world, namely the Tour da' Afrique, they all thought I was joking or crazy. This reaction is my best, because I'm far from crazy, I'm just bored of doing whats expected. I thieve off the unknown, unexpected and searching for the next exciting adventure.

My legs feeling a little sore after the 80 km cycle, but it's my most rewarding pain...

Friday, 2 November 2012

Small small world...

Do you find yourself saying: "When I have time I'll do this and that or someday when I have enough money saved I'll do this and that..." But that someday, time and money never seems enough and the opportunity passes you by, because you made excuse after excuse to delay your commitment. Well, recently I found myself making many future plans and no effort to take action.

I always spoke about how I wish I could just do some of the amazing adventures you see on television or read about in books. When I asked myself "Whats stopping me???" I had no answer and could not find a convincing excuse to help me procrastinate any longer. At 24 years old with money saved after my time working on the yachts, I could afford to take a few months off a do whatever I liked. Whether it was backpacking through South America, learning to kite surfing in Vietnam or cycling through Africa, if I finally pushed myself to commit it is all very possible. I have the opportunity to do it now, because there is nothing tying me down. I am young, fit, healthy, single, unemployed and hungry for something to challenge me physically, mentally and emotionally. And so I decided to stop talking about all the amazing things I plan to do someday and actually take action and do it now.

Taking the plunge in West Palm Beach, Florida. This is when it all started, I'v always wanted to try skydiving, but I delayed doing the jump for ages because people thought it was crazy, dangerous and unnecessary.  When I finally let myself commit and actually do it, I had the very best time... Since then I approached all potential adventures, challenges and exciting opportunities with a new open-minded attitude.
My research allowed me to came across the Tour d' Afrique cycling challenge, which is an organized tour starting in Cairo, Egypt on the 11th Jan 2013 and finishes in Cape Town on the 11th May 2013. The full tour riders travel through 11 countries and cover a distance of 12000 km from start to finish. Everything about this tour made me excited and it was an easy commitment... I contacted the Tour d' Afrique cross-continental bicycle touring company based in Toronto, Canada. They said it was very last minute, but there was still space for another rider. Immediately the preparations to cycle from Cairo to Cape Town began.

In the beginning stages on my preparations, Justin kept telling me about a South African modern day explorer who had come to Saracens earlier in the week to do a motivational talk for the rugby team. This young, energetic guy told stories about his most recent trip which was kayaking around Iceland with Dan Skinstad. However, his first adventure which kick started his career was about being the first man to circumnavigate the African Continent by bicycle. While Justin was telling me about this explorer by the name of Riaan Manser, my memory kicked in and I realized that I have actually met him before. I doubted myself at first, but when I looked at the picture on his book, I was almost sure that 5 years ago, when I was starting my career on the yachts, I sat next to Riaan Manser on a flight from London to Cape Town. I had just quit my job onboard a 45m motor yacht based in Antigua and was heading home to study at Stellenbosch University. We swapped stories the entire flight, Riaan told me all about his trip around Africa as he was busy promoting his book "Around Africa on my bicycle" and I told him all about my time on the Super Yachts and the amazing places I got to visit. The conversation we had was fascinating, and I remember thinking how I wish I was brave enough do something like cycle around Africa.

So when my sister in-law, Georgina, put me in touch with Riaan to set up a meet and greet I was super excited, just to see him again. In the back of my mind I wanted to ask if he maybe remembered me: "I'm the yachting girl that sat next to you on a flight years ago..." But then I thought NO NO NO!!! That just sounds a bit weird, especially since Riaan has become fairly well recognized over the past few years, he might just think I'm a creepy fan. So to keep myself from embarrassment, I kept my mouth shut... But then to my surprise, Riaan asks me over the phone: "Sorry Tess, but this might be a strange question, did you work on the super yachts before, cause I think we sat next to each other on a flight sometime ago???" I was shocked to say the least and over the moon that he remembered me after all that time. Small small world, cause here I am now 5 years later and asking the man himself Riaan Manser advise about my cycling challenge from Cairo to Cape Town, which I believe he inspired on that flight from London to Cape Town.

In the end, it seems as though I am brave enough to do something like cycle though the African continent.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Decision decision...

So here I am, 24, walking in the beautiful park of St Albans with my older brother, Justin and his wife Georgina, and here comes that scary question, “So Tessa, what are you going to do now?” Okay, before I can answer this lets first backtrack over the past few years.

I matriculated from Rustenberg Girls high school in Cape Town, with unexpected good results, and I was ready for university to continue what felt like an academic winning streak. Especially since I battled through school with a terrible learning disability where reading, writing and spelling was my worst. For instance, I remember my first grade 8 English lesson when our teacher, addressed as Sir, dictated all our notes. It was a nightmare, for a young girl coming from a local Afrikaaans junior school in Velddrift. I remember the first word he said was “Poetry”, I don’t know how others feel about this word, but I hated it. While every other student in the class immediately began writing down word for word what Sir was dictating, I sat the entire lesson nervously trying to find the word “Poetry” in my Afrikaans/English dictionary. However, the problem was I didn’t even know what “poetry” was in Afrikaans and I was convinced it was spelt “Peotry” which isn’t in my tweetalige woordedboek. All I remember was trying to look as busy as possible so that Sir wouldn’t ask me to read aloud from a book written but some guy called William Shakespeare.

After surprisingly being awarded three Academic achievements and finally finishing high school, the world was my oyster and I was convinced that university was my only option. Destiny, however, had different plans:  My sister Nina graduated as a chef from ICA some years earlier and decided to try out her sea legs, rather than work for minimum wage in the competitive restaurant industry, even though she had no experience of boats of any kind. This didn't stop her as she sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean on a 40ft Catamaran as part of a crew of three. The 42 day crossing and being away from loved ones was something Nina needed to get used to quickly. However, once based in St Maarten, her career blossomed with hard work, good fortunes and contacts, and before she knew it Nina was in high demand and secured a full time position on a recognized Classic yacht called Atlantide.

Nina and me enjoying the sunset in the Caribbean
I remember the excitement when my big sister phoned home and told tales of exotic places and amazing people… how could I not want to be a part of such an exciting industry? So after school, my parents agreed that a gap year was a great idea and I was on the next flight to the Caribbean island of St Maarten, where a family friend and aspiring musician, Guy Ogier, and his band members let me stay on their couch until I found work. I couldn’t afford rent, so as my contribution I cooked, cleaned and made pancakes in the mornings. My career as a ‘yachtie’ began, 18 years old, fresh out of school and sleeping on an old couch, sharing an apartment with a local up-and-coming band called Mellowism.

Top floor was our Caribbean home in Cole Bay. St Maarten
At this stage my biggest fear was failing to find a job and being forced to return home after running out of money. I was incredibly lucky in terms of being at the right place at the right time when the opportunity came about to work onboard one of the most incredible super yachts in the industry, namely SY Maltese Falcon. This is a magnificent 88 metre sailing yacht with a remarkable free-standing, computer-controlled clipper rig, she is said to be a triumph of modern design and engineering. During my time onboard I got to, visit amazing parts of the world I never thought I’d get the opportunity to experience, eat at the very best restaurants and get VIP treatment in all the hottest clubs. Yes, the crew onboard these yachts are not only surrounded by the very rich, famous and most influencail individuals in the world, but too some extent crew are able to live life in the deceiving lap of luxury. Having a super yacht as our mobile home, rewarding pay and together with charter tips it makes living it up amongst the elite possible. I have watched the final lap of the Monaco Grand Prix from the top of the mast whilst moored in Monte Carlo, welcomed Bernie Ecclestone, the owner of the F1 series onboard “our” super yacht; served famous F1 drivers dinner, poured Richard Branson a virgin cocktail while anchored off his private island, sipped champagne with Georgio Armani in a club in Antigua; argued South African politics with Bob Geldoff and watched Prince Harry zoom past on a jet ski in Barbados. It’s all part of this “super human” lifestyle, which the yachting industry has exposed to me. It’s a lifestyle where nothing is too much, limits cannot be reached and “no” isn't a word.
With Georgio Armani in Antigua

Top of the mast over looking Monaco during the 2012 Grand Prix final lap
Sailing the St Bart's Bucket Race
Whenever I returned home and proudly told stories of my travels, most friends and family respond with “What an adventurous lifestyle you lead…” And yes, I agree my time abroad has allowed for plenty of adventures and self-discovery. However, I have always felt that a true adventure is one that challenges you not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. So at this point in time, I have the sudden desire to push myself to new limits and really put my character to the test. I am the type of person that gets driven and focused when faced with a challenge, because my entire life has been about overcoming various obsticels and I truly get the very best kick out of successfully achieving my goals. My passion for overcoming challenges is rooted in my childhood and competitive upbringing. I grew up in true PLAAS style, as rough and tough as they come. You know one of those girls that’s always barefoot, showed off her scares and spoke an Afrikaans dialect that only a few could understand.

So when I quit my job onboard the super yachts and left the lovely comfort zone of easy money, the dream-like “rock star” lifestyle as well as leaving my yachting family. Everyone and especially me waited in anticipation as to “What’s next?”

Well, now back to the walk in the park where Justin and Georgina put things into perspective for me. They pointed out that I am constantly either living in the past or living in fear of the future. At first I didn't understand what they meant, but after some thought it made perfect sense. I do still view myself as the awkward clumsy girl with numerous insecurities and forget I’m actually a fairly confident young woman with huge potential. And yes the future does frighten me, cause I’m always chasing something that I cannot achieve fast enough, which frustrates me and leads to disappointments, meanwhile I should be focusing my energy on the present and how wonderful things are in the “NOW”, however this is much easier said than done. But before I get to soppy or dramatic, don’t get me wrong my life up to now has been nothing short of a whirl-wind of fun and there is plenty more to come.

With fresh ideas and a positive outlook, I began brainstorming what I truly want to do in the years to come. I could easily just jump onto mega yacht owner by yet another billionaire and continue on the path of a cocktail making queen, or house-sit a multi-millionaires Villa in Ibiza for a few months or even become a highly paid private chalet girl in Switzerland, which basically means keep the place cozy and enjoy skiing for 4 months while being paid. However as wonderful as all the jobs may sound I was hesitant and never truly satisfied, because it was almost too easy, if that makes sense and I actually got a bit bored with the lack of challenges. So this is when my research allowed me to come across the Tour d' Afrique, and cycling challenge from Cairo to Cape Town.